Continued from previous days…
Once I focused on my pastor friend’s concerns (and not my own), I inquired about his insights into 1 Timothy (the passage that had him all hot and bothered in previous conversations). He had none. This is understandable. During times of severe duress we shouldn’t expect insights. When we are stressed out, our body is preparing to fight, flee or freeze. It’s not usually our best time for theological discussions.
“Do you remember the verse you quoted me the other day? The one from 1 Timothy?” I asked.
“Yeah, of course, me and my shame. I used to love those verses to guide me as a leader in good standing when faced with a problem with one of the other leaders in my congregation. Now that I fear I am THAT GUY who cannot manage his family, these verses no longer feel so cut and dried. Standing on the other side of these words, I’m angry. I feel judged. And that makes me feel guilty for the way I judged others. But mostly, I just feel like a failure who has disappointed God. Now I have to decide what to do about it. Quit my job? Come clean with my daughter’s situation? She doesn’t want anyone knowing her business. But I’ve used other situations just like this one to force a deacon to resign his position. What a mess!”
“Ok, well, before we get to that, can we go back to 1 Timothy?” I asked. He agreed. Instead of turning to the “instruction manual for leadership” (his words not mine), I went back to the verses I quoted earlier this week: This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ - and I’m the biggest sinner of all. But this is why I was shown mercy, so that Christ Jesus could show his endless patience to me first of all. So I’m an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:15-16 CEB
We read it and he fell silent.
“Look, I do not know what to tell you about how you manage your church. I do have some thoughts about your daughter, if you ever want to hear about that. But what I do know is this - Paul probably had a particular context for writing what he said in reference to leaders. This was a letter to a particular person. And, it’s not the only thing Paul said. Just look at the verses we’re reading! Jesus shows endless patience. He took the biggest sinner of all (according to Paul), Paul, and taught him that Jesus came to save sinners and show mercy. I do not know what to make of your church policies, who am I to say? But I believe that if your policies do not align with endless patience and mercy, well, you might want to re-evaluate.”
He replied, “You think this would make a good sermon?”
“For me or you? For me, yes. For you, heck no. These are my thoughts, not yours. You were perfectly ok with removing people from positions in the church if their kid got busted. You cannot go preaching a sermon until you wrestle with what you really believe and why you believe it. You cannot all of a sudden change the policy of your church just because it no longer suits you. What about this? What if you just decide for now that it’s time to rethink the way you folks are handling families that hurt in your church? Right after I get you the resources to get your kid into treatment! OK? Let’s do the critical things first!”
“Ok, what should I do for her?”
Tomorrow, we pray. Because we all have family situations that are painful. And we often fail to make choices that account for patience, mercy, and right action when said action is inconvenient.